This summer the Boston Red Sox sponsored a “Fenway Park Art & Essay Contest” to celebrate the venerable ballpark’s centennial, inviting kids ages 16 and under throughout New England to submit original artwork and/or an essay on “what Fenway Park means to you.” The prize was tickets to a game, a tour of the park, a chance to watch batting practice from the field, and an introduction to the crowd in a pregame ceremony on the field. One art and one essay winner from each of the 6 New England states was selected. The winning artwork will be displayed in the Fenway concourse.
Since the boys are constantly drawing baseball pictures and dreaming about going to Fenway Park, I encouraged them to enter the contest. They both drew pictures, and Ben also submitted an essay. A couple weeks ago Ben got a congratulatory phone call from a fellow in the Sox front office to let him know that his drawing was chosen as the best artwork from Maine. As you may know, this is a boy who is all about baseball 24/7, especially the Red Sox, so winning this contest was akin to winning the Grand Lottery in his book!
When the big day rolled around last Saturday, we arrived at the ballpark before the gates opened and were given a tour of Fenway along with the other winners from around the region. Much to the boys’ delight, we were escorted onto the field, right about where the Sox on deck circle is, to watch the players take batting practice. As they took turns whacking balls all over the park, a few players wandered over to shake the kids’ hands, sign balls, and pose for pictures. Ben was amazed at the height of Clay Buchholz, one of his favorite pitchers who towered over him while signing Ben’s ball. Pedro Ciriaco, an exciting youngster brought up in the middle of the season from the minors, was especially nice with the kids. Some players casually tossed balls to the kids as they passed by, one of which Ben managed to catch.
As the Sox finished up batting practice and the visiting Blue Jays wandered onto the field to take their turn, we were invited to gather on top of the Green Monster, Fenway’s famous forty-foot high wall in left field. From there the kids got a grand sweeping view of the park, and imagine their delight when one of the Blue Jay hitters (I think it was Edwin Encarnacion) started ripping shots up, over, and against the Monster. The kids were ready with gloves, and almost caught one or two–not an easy task, as those balls were being launched over 300 feet away and travel like rockets.
Soon it was time to get ready for the pregame ceremony–after a short wait in the “green room” Ben and I were escorted to the Sox on-deck circle area to wait for the cue (while we waited second baseman Dustin Pedroia played catch about 10 feet in front of Ben, which certainly caught his eye). Finally the kids were led out onto the infield grass near the pitcher’s mound, where they were introduced one by one in front of 38,000 people, and their artwork was displayed on the “jumbotron” in center field. Ben had a grin a mile wide when his name was called and waved heartily to the crowd.
The game began soon afterward–it was not a close game at all (Daisuke Matzusaka, the Red Sox starting pitcher, recorded only 4 outs before giving up 5 runs and being taken out of the game, about as rough an outing as I’ve ever seen from any pitcher). The rain, which had been threatening all evening, finally started coming in waves, causing 2 delays and making it a very late night for everyone (on the plus side, so many people left after the second delay that we were able to move from our original location in right field and sit just a few rows behind the visitors’ on-deck circle for the last 4 innings–a real treat for the boys when you can hear the umpire call “Strike!” and hear the pop of the ball in the catcher’s mitt.
It was definitely a day for all to remember, especially Ben. Although he was modest and low key about winning the contest, it was certainly a great big pat on the back to be recognized publicly, and a dream come true to have such a VIP experience at Fenway Park. I’m sure he’ll never forget it.